CONCORD, N.C. – It’s only fitting that Jimmie Johnson’s latest romp through the record books was shrouded in post-race controversy.
What’s a Johnson win, after all, without a good conspiracy theory?
The latest instance of black helicopters hovering over the Hendrick Motorsports team came in the closing laps of Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race after Johnson headed down pit road in the fourth position for the final stop. A quick four-tire change sent him back onto the track in second and put him in position for his record fourth All-Star race victory.
But an error by the television production crew led to an incorrect graphic during the live telecast that claimed Johnson should have lined up much lower in the field going on to pit road.
So as the beer and champagne swirled in Victory Lane, angry fans pounced on the inconsistency and argued Johnson should never have been in position for the win.
Johnson simply offered a bemused shrug.
“I don’t have the slightest clue. People just want to hate,” he said. “That’s fine. I’m just lucky. NASCAR rigs the races and whatever they want to believe. I’m going home with a cool trophy and a big check and we all really know what happened. So whatever.”
The five-time NASCAR champion became the first four-time winner of NASCAR’s annual All-Star race, breaking a tie with the late Dale Earnhardt and teammate Jeff Gordon.
It was fitting that he did it at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the track Johnson, the five-time NASCAR champion, has dominated since his 2002 rookie season. Johnson has won six points races at Charlotte, led more than 1,600 laps and the win in the $1 million Sprint All-Star Race was his second straight, fourth in 12 years. He also won in 2003 and 2006.
Now he’ll head back to the track next week for the Coca-Cola 600, a race he won three straight years from 2003-05 when the No. 48 was unbeatable at Charlotte. The rest of the field caught up to him following a repave of the track, and Johnson’s last win in a points race was 2009.
“We’ve had decent finishes and been competitive and led laps, but the track is just so different now than it was then, and we had it scienced out,” Knaus said. “We knew literally what time in the afternoon, what the adjustment needed to be made to the car, and it was like clockwork, didn’t matter the year, just every single time. It’s not that way anymore.”